Since the Atlanta Flames relocated to Calgary in 1980, the team has taken part in 30 NHL Entry Drafts. In the 1980s, they drafted numerous top-tier NHL stars – including Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon, Gary Roberts, Brett Hull, Theoren Fleury, and Joe Nieuwendyk. Some of these players played key roles in the team’s 1989 Stanley Cup win.
However, as the Flames moved into the 1990s and 2000s, draft day consistently produced unexceptional results. Fortunately, the team was able to bring in franchise stars, such as Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, via trade. This duo led the team on its 2003-04 Stanley Cup run. The team began to more regularly draft and develop star players again in the 2010s.
Over 30 years in Calgary, the Flames have never selected higher than fourth overall in the draft. They had this pick just once, using it in 2014 to make Sam Bennett the franchise’s highest-drafted player. The team has also selected sixth overall on five occasions. Read on to learn the best and worst drafts in Flames history.
The Calgary Flames’ Best NHL Drafts
#3: 2016 – Matthew Tkachuk, Dillon Dubé, Tyler Parsons, Adam Fox (and five others)
The Flames got immediate results from the 2016 draft when Matthew Tkachuk stepped right into the lineup at the NHL level. In four seasons since, the sixth-overall pick has established himself as a high-end talent (and agitator) in the league. The team was especially fortunate that Tkachuk fell to sixth, considering neither Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton Oilers, fourth overall) nor Olli Juolevi (Vancouver Canucks, fifth overall) have established themselves with their Pacific Division rival teams.
The second round was also a winner for the Flames, as they chose goaltender Tyler Parsons at 54th overall and Dillon Dubé at 56th. Parsons remains a highly-ranked prospect in the Flames system, while Dubé in 2019-20 emerged as a promising middle-six NHL winger.
While he was an astute mid-round selection by the Flames, Adam Fox opted not to sign with the team following his collegiate career. As a result, the former third-round pick was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes (in the package that went to acquire Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin). The Hurricanes didn’t suit Fox’s interests either, so they traded him to the New York Rangers, with whom he finally signed. He made his Rangers debut in the 2019-20 season and looks to be headed for a successful career.
For the Flames, the 2016 draft also yielded Linus Lindstrom, Mitchell Mattson, Eetu Tuulola, Matthew Phillips, and Stepan Falkovsky. Falkovsky is no longer with the organization, and Mattson is playing college hockey. But Phillips and Tuulola are finding success at the AHL level. Phillips even earned a brief call up to the Flames in Dec. 2019, though he didn’t make his NHL debut. Lindstrom currently plays in the Swedish Hockey League.
This draft produced NHL players for the Flames and, in the case of Fox, the Rangers. Fox’s promise also helped the team acquire Lindholm and Hanifin, who are both integral pieces of the team’s current roster. The 2016 draft could look even better for the team if Parsons or any other skaters crack the NHL roster.
#2: 1984 – Gary Roberts, Paul Ranheim, Brett Hull, Gary Suter (and 8 Others)
In terms of NHL talent and longevity, the Flames’ 1984 draft group had unparalleled success. Gary Roberts, Paul Ranheim, Brett Hull, and Gary Suter all went on to play over 1,000 games in the NHL. Roberts was the team’s first-round pick at 12th overall. Ranheim followed in the second round, while Hull and Suter accomplished exceptional careers after being sixth and ninth-round picks, respectively.
Regrettably for the Flames, Hull’s time with the team lasted just 57 games. In 1988, a 23-year-old Hull was traded to the St. Louis Blues for Rob Ramage and goaltender Rick Wamsley. These pieces helped the Flames win the Stanley Cup the next season, but Hull became one of the sport’s all-time great goal scorers.
Roberts, Suter, and Ranheim all played during the team’s 1988-89 Cup-winning season. Though, Ranheim played just five games as a rookie that season. Suter, meanwhile, broke his jaw in the first round of the playoffs after putting up a 62-point regular season. Roberts posted 12 points in the team’s 22 playoff games. Moreover, 1984 eighth-round pick Jiri Hrdina also had the best season of his brief NHL career when he scored 54 points in the 1988-89 season.
Suter and Ranheim were traded away together in 1994. Roberts played 10 seasons with the Flames before retiring due to a neck injury, from which he was later able to return. Suter (sixth) and Roberts (ninth) both remain on the franchise’s top-10 point-scorers list.
Other 1984 picks included Ken Sabourin, Petr Rosol, Joel Paunio, Kevan Melrose, Hrdina, Petr Rucka, Stefan Jonsson, and Rudolf Suchanek. Hrdina and Sabourin were the only others to make it to the NHL.
#1: 1981 – Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon (and 7 Others)
The best draft in the history of the Flames came in 1981. This draft did produce only two players who meaningfully contributed to the Flames, but they are two of the franchise’s most important figures: Al MacInnis and Mike Vernon.
MacInnis was the team’s first-round pick at 15th overall. He spent a dominant 13 seasons with the Flames, scoring 822 points in 803 games – good for third on the franchise’s all-time point-scorers list, behind only Iginla and Fleury. With 31 points in 22 playoff games, he was also the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when the team won the Cup in 1989. He later followed that up with one of the franchise’s few 100-point seasons in 1990-91.
Goaltender Mike Vernon was selected in the third round. He was the team’s starting goalie from 1986 through 1994 and played a total of 13 seasons across two stints with the team. He was especially strong in the team’s Stanley Cup-winning season when he posted a dominant 37-6-5 record. He also won all of the team’s 16 playoff victories on their way to the hoisting the Cup.
After years with the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, and Florida Panthers, Vernon spent his final two seasons with the Flames before retiring after the 2001-02 season. He set numerous franchise records in net, though most were topped by Miikka Kiprusoff not too long after.
Other 1981 draft picks included Peter Madach, Mario Simioni, Todd Hooey, Rick Heppner, Dale DeGray, George Boudreau, and Bruce Eakin. Only DeGray and Eakin made it to the NHL, together combining for under 200 career games. But MacInnis’s and Vernon’s contributions to the franchise and its lone Cup win offset the lacklustre outcome in the later rounds.
The Calgary Flames’ Worst NHL Drafts
#3: 2014 – Sam Bennett (and five others)
As the fourth-overall pick in the 2014 draft, Sam Bennett claimed the title as the highest draft pick in Calgary Flames history. Since earning that honour, he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.
To be fair, Bennett’s been a regular contributor in the team’s bottom-six forward group since his debut – which is an accomplishment in itself. But he’s offered little more than that in his time with the Flames.
In five seasons, Bennett hasn’t topped the 34 points he scored as a rookie. He’s shown grit and scoring potential, but he’s yet to establish himself as a consistent offensive threat.
Compounding matters for this draft year, not one of the five players selected after Bennett has played a game in the NHL. These picks were Mason McDonald, Hunter Smith, Brandon Hickey, Adam Ollas Mattsson, and Austin Carroll. It’s up to Bennett to recover the status of this draft for the Flames.
#2: 2006 – Leland Irving (and 7 Others)
It’s difficult to match the disappointment of the Flames’ 2006 draft. The team’s eight draft picks went on to total just 13 games in the NHL. Goaltender and first-round pick Leland Irving accounts for all 13 of the games, which he played in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. He left the Flames in 2013 and today still plays in the Austrian Hockey League.
The other selections in 2006 were John Armstrong, Aaron Marvin, Hugo Carpentier, Juuso Puustinen, Jordan Fulton, Devin DiDiomete, and Per Johnsson. None ever made their NHL debut. When an off-year in the later rounds intersects with a first-round pick who falters, a draft year can quickly become forgettable.
#1: 1997 – Daniel Tkaczuk (and 11 Others)
The Flames had many high first-round disappointments in the 1990s and 2000s – names such as Rico Fata, Brent Krahn, and Kris Chucko come to mind. But at sixth overall in 1997, Daniel Tkaczuk was a particularly highly drafted let-down. At the time, he joined Cory Stillman as the only other Flame selected as high as sixth overall.
Tkaczuk had a successful junior career and even a promising rookie debut – he scored 11 points in 19 games for the Flames in 2000-01. But he never received another NHL look after that season. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in 2001 and spent the rest of his career in the minors and European leagues.
The 1997 first round also produced multiple NHL greats. The top five prior to Tkaczuk’s selection went Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo, and Eric Brewer, all of whom had lengthy NHL careers. Marian Hossa also went six picks after Tkaczuk.
Later-round picks John Tripp, Erik Andersson, and Ryan Ready combined for just 62 career NHL games. Other 1997 selections who never broke into the league were Evan Lindsay, Dmitry Kokorev, Derek Schultz, Christ St. Croix, Martin Moise, Ilja Demidov, Jeremy Rondeau, and Dustin Paul. Tkaczuk’s draft position mingled with several future Hall of Famers, but he and the rest of this Flames draft group never proved themselves at the NHL level.
Lucas Anderson lives in Calgary, AB, and covers the Calgary Flames for THW. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto, where he completed his Master’s in Cinema Studies. Lucas writes on topics including sports, film, visual culture, and history. He still thinks about the Atlanta Thrashers, his former favourite NHL team.